The secret to sons: it's something I haven't learned yet. Or perhaps there isn't one, anymore than there's some mysterious secret to raising daughters, or chickens. Everyone is just muddling along like I am, frustrated and delighted in equal measure.
I come from a long line of daughters. I have one sibling, a sister. My dad's only sibling was a sister; so was my mom's. My mom's sister never married, and my other aunt married someone we will generously call "unsuitable" and who left the family before I turned eight. My best friend from preschool through high school had one sibling, a sister (friends with my sister! Couple-friends lottery! For my parents, that is). My best friend from third grade through high school had two siblings, both sisters. My life experience was girls girls girls, is what I am saying, and although I had a healthy appreciation for boys, especially after I turned fifteen or so, I don't have much first hand experience about what they're like in childhood.
Now it sounds like I'm going into some long tirade about how boys are alien species and I Just Don't Understand and Girls Are So Much Easier and PLEASE. Girls are kids, boys are kids, basically they have similar dreams and motivations ("It snowed so much the schools closed? But Ch^ck E Ch@@se didn't? So we got to go to Ch^ck E Ch@@se ALL DAY?"). Plus I'm not sure how much I ought to rely on my own experience of childhood when trying to parent my kids; this gets dangerously close to trying to somehow parent myself, instead of paying attention to the kids who actually exist in front of me right now.
However, when Helen comes to me crying, I find that I often instinctively know what her problem is. She's lonely! Her feelings are hurt! She got caught up in imagining the terrible things that could happen to her and the people she loves and she's scared! Likewise, and more usefully, when she's acting bratty or mean I can also more or less picture what's going through her head, and speak to that.
When Silas comes to me crying--or, since he doesn't cry much anymore, when he is droopy and dispirited--sometimes I have NO CLUE. And since kids are kids, and don't often articulate their griefs very well, he has NO CLUE either, and we sit there, head to head, at an impasse. Until his droopiness turns into irritability, he starts acting like Bratty Mcbratterson, and I lose my temper. Right there is the behavioral equation that wrecks our relationship eighty percent of the time.
I'm trying to do better, though. For starters: I'm trying to appreciate my son for who he IS, not what I want him to be (or what I'm desperately hoping he's not going to be, which is a related but separate problem).